Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

There’s an old adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. The idea is that when somebody has learned a behavior it is going to be incredibly hard to then change that behavior later in life. While it’s debatable whether or not this is true of humans, the reality is that it really holds no truth as it relates to training a dog.

The fact is that the outage you can’t teach an old dog new tricks may even be harmful and that it made dissuade dog owners from adopting an older dog, or even a young dog that is simply no longer a puppy. This is a shame for obvious reasons, but mostly because adopting an older dog from the animal shelter is one of the most generous and loving acts that a dog owner can do. Any misinformation being spread that might prevent an order from doing so should be corrected, and a better understanding of the realities of owning an older dog should be encouraged amongst the dog owning community.

The truth is that you can absolutely teach an older dog new tricks. If you’re planning on bringing and older dog into your home, or else you have an older dog that is behaving poorly in a matter that you want to correct, then don’t just sit by and do nothing. Make plans by getting any special equipment that may help, and remember that your dog is every bit as capable of learning from you as they were back in the day when they were a puppy. Here to help you teach an old dog new tricks is a quick guide to help you stay focused and training in the most productive way possible.

The Theory

The reality of teaching an old dog new tricks is pretty simple: it’s really no different than training a young puppy. In fact, you may find that training an older dog is even simpler because they are more capable of focusing their attention for longer periods of time then puppies ever could be. With that being said, there are still difficulties associated with training older dogs and will help you cope with those dangers and maybe even avoid them altogether.

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The first thing that you want to do is establish exactly what is going to motivate your dog to learn. Sometimes with a puppy simple positive reinforcement in the form of encouragement is enough to motivate. This is also true of some adult dogs, but you may need to get a little creative with adult dogs in order to get them moving. The most obvious method of motivating your dog is going to be treats.

If you’ve owned your dog for quite some time, then you know exactly what kind of treat is going to get them salivating and doing just about anything in their power to get that tree. That is excellent news, and will save you the trouble of finding a good motivator.

If, however, you are bringing home an older dog for the first time you may have to do a little bit more work. Find out if food is a motivator for this older dog. If need be, get high-value treats that are going to get them moving if things like simple milk bones are not doing the trick. Overall, your best bet is going to be a combination of treats and positive reinforcement in the form of encouragement. Both of these tools used in conjunction form a powerful incentive that is sure to get your older dog behaving and performing all the tricks that you had always hoped they would.

Bad Behavior

The phrase you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is miss leading in a couple different ways. The second reason that it is a little misleading lies in the fact that teaching an older dog a new trick may be easier than it is to teach an older dog not to perform a bad behavior that they have already been doing for years.

Let’s use digging through the trash as an example. The trouble is that digging through a trashcan is a behavior that has its own reward. The reality is that when a dog routes through the trash, they are immediately rewarded with old food. Well this might sound like a poor motivator for a human, for a dog it can pose and almost irresistible temptation.

This is the difficulty of discouraging bad behavior. While a trick is introducing a positive reinforcement the dog might not already have, just waiting a bad behavior is an essence trying to remove a positive reinforcement from their life. So how does one go about getting an older dog to stop an established bad behavior? The answer is the same as it is for any young puppy: consistency.

Every time that your dog demonstrates a bad behavior you must admonish them, and make the bad behavior one that is not worth repeating. For example, if your dog roots through the trash, then you might admonish them and put them in a timeout in their crate. If a dog is treated this way each and every time they get into the trashcan, they may just find that the old bits of food in the garbage or no longer worth the trouble associated with digging them out.

The trouble is that owners love their dogs very much. Even when a dog is behaving poorly, it can be a challenge to admonish your dog consistently when all you want is a little companionship when you get home from work. In essence, discipline can affect the owner just as much as it does the dog. When confronted with this reality, try to remember that the Bad behavior can be routed out quite quickly, and all it takes is you sticking with your guns. If you discipline your dog consistently, however, you will find that this behavior does not in any way diminish and your relationship with your dog may become strained. Don’t be afraid to send your dog to the crate!

Final Thoughts

If you’ve done everything listed above and you still find that your dog is in capable of learning new tricks or unlearning bad behavior, then it may be time to look into other potential causes.

Especially if the bad behaviors are more serious than routing through your garbage, consult with an expert to see if there may be confounding factors that make your dog act in this fashion.

Crates are a large part of discipline with dogs, so make sure you have one that’s up to the job by checking out our review page.

The bottom line is that if you adhere to these principles then you will likely have an older dog that acts its age, and that’s something that all dog owners dream of. Remember, there is no better time to teach a dog a trick then when they are old!

DISCLAIMER: The information on this site is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian or doctor. Should you think that your pet needs medical attention, please contact your local veterinarian.  
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